In the introduction to my poetry collection, I named T S Eliot as my favourite poet; and my favourite poems of his as first Prufrock, then Ash Wednesday, Portrait Of A Lady, and finally Burnt Norton.
Eliot has been my favourite for half a lifetime, since being introduced to him at school, but in the last few years I have begun to question myself. After all one should grow, and I know far more about poetry now than I did then both in terms of quantity and quality. You have to challenge your thoughts, beliefs, ideas and ways of seeing life and people. And, of course, your favourite reading.
Thirty years ago I discovered the section from Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journals which begins, ‘August is nearly over…’ Ten or more years ago, I became acquainted with Margaret Atwood’s Christmas Carols. The addressing of the awful economic two worlds of the first, the facing of what could be called the holocaust of women and their womanhood in the second, are massive subjects about which the two poets write such clever, skilful and beautiful poetry.
What is more cutting is how MacNeice challenges what is in all of us. Just the thought of whether we might give up a penny of our fortune, however small, to donate a penny to relieve this inequality – thereby doing what writing should do – makes us uneasy. For human life – the journey of the soul, eternal or otherwise – is about growth, moving on, changing. ‘We won`t change the world until we change the ear of man.’
I am sure that I have banged on about that somewhere, since that change is what I would like to bring about through my own writing, indeed through all my life and interaction with others. Atwood’s lines flow so cleverly, unfolding her message, her awful message, through the graphic pictures she flashes out before us, rather like the old silent, unmoving, ‘Pictures’ of the earliest cinema.
But I come back to Eliot. One of the passages which fascinates me most of all, and possibly best illustrates my new thoughts about poetry, is from Burnt Norton . I think I have said that I wrote on it – unseen – in a University entrance paper, and passed that examination. I am sure I said then that I did not know what it was about. I still don’t and I am not even sure Eliot did. But I have come to think that the poem is about the love of poetry.
No, even more than that. It makes make me realise that the idea itself is in a way poetic. The idea is the poem. The work is about the love of rhythm and words and of creating a something which is in itself poetic.
I only recently found that this might be said of my stories. Although I have long known that my writing style is poetic prose, in thinking about the poetry of Eliot it came to me that the ‘stories’ my tales tell are not unlike a poem. This can certainly be said of The Admirers, Roots, Stripes and The Swing Chair In The Garden.
MacNeice and Atwood have serious and profound messages to relate in the works cited. Many poets write great and glorious narrative – storytelling – poems. And some of those, like Hiawatha and Sohrab and Rustum, are top favourites of mine.
But Eliot still remains at the top of my list, because what he writes about is poetry, and the story in his poems is sometimes a poem in itself.
So with my short stories. They do of course have a story. But it is thin, or perhaps not the main thing. I do not use words just to create a story. I create a story which in itself is a kind of poem. I think this point is best illustrated by the stories Roots and Stripes See what you think. Look at my collection of short stories, called Reasons.
Pamela Pickton’s travails and worldly challenges in her Zitebooks collection of short stories, Reasons, and is available to download from Amazon.